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SAMHSA News - Volume XI, Number 3, Summer 2003

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New York firefighter Chris Agazzi at a 9/11 remembrance ceremony at Ground Zero, September, 11, 2002Disaster Preparedness:
Manual Provides Guidance

SAMHSA's Center for Mental Health Services recently contracted with the National Association for State Mental Health Program Directors to create a new resource manual for state and local mental health and substance abuse authorities: Mental Health All-Hazards Disaster Planning Guidance.

Cover of the Mental Health All-Hazards Disaster Planning Guidance ReportWritten primarily by Brian W. Flynn, Ed.D., Associate Director of the Center for Studies of Traumatic Stress, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, the guide is targeted to states and outlines the necessary components of all successful disaster plans as well as hazard-specific details.

"The principle of all-hazards planning is that successful plans, regardless of the disaster, include the same core elements," said Dr. Flynn. "We've gathered all these elements into one comprehensive document."

The manual is structured as a companion document to the Guide for All-Hazards Emergency Operations Planning, published in 1996 by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The mental health manual mirrors the language and format of the FEMA guide to help planners integrate mental health and substance abuse activities into overall emergency response operations.

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As state authorities begin planning or improving an existing plan, they are encouraged to review emergency plans from other states for relevant information. Forging relationships with partners before an event is vital, especially with the state's emergency management agency. This agency's planning documents may already contain solutions to common problems.

State authorities should also identify:

  • A leader for plan formulation
  • Benefits to potential partners as incentives to participate
  • Purpose of the plan
  • Planning office's legal obligations.

From the outset, the planning team must involve local mental health and substance abuse partners. Planners should also include willing participants beyond the typical circle of stakeholders, such as interfaith groups, school systems, and organizations serving special populations such as children or older adults.

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Plan Components

All successful disaster plans include several common elements-that's the driving principle behind the all-hazards approach. A good introduction, for instance, will clearly outline a plan's purpose and describe the most likely scenarios and vulnerable populations/facilities in a given area.

Similarly, a "Concept of Operations" component will define what should happen, when, and who should direct, the division of responsibility (state, local, Federal); and who can request aid and in what situations.

Plans will organize and assign responsibilities by listing team tasks and responsible parties, and describing tasks for anyone outside the core group.

An administration/logistics/legal section will plan for recording program activities, expenditures, and human resource utilization; support needs (food, water, shelter, etc.) and equipment maintenance; and legal issues (jurisdictions, liability, emergency waiver of procurement rules, etc.).

The ideal plan will also feature a glossary, communication methods, public information strategies, and procedures for mobilizing staff and services.

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Hazard-Specific Planning

With core elements in place, state plans can address specific events-from natural disasters to community violence. These sections should identify high-risk areas and the unique aspects of each hazard. For example, during a hurricane, long-standing floodwaters in low-lying areas may delay repair to homes. These delays can displace victims for long periods of time and cause additional individual and family stress.

Terrorism preparedness, which deserves its own section, must address myriad details, including identification of potential targets; an understanding of potential hazards including biological, chemical, nuclear/ radiological, explosive, cyber, or a combination; and situational considerations such as climate, geography, urban/rural status, and transport patterns.

With checklists, a wealth of resources, and sample forms, Mental Health All-Hazards Disaster Planning Guidance is an invaluable tool for state and local mental health and substance abuse administrators who must be prepared for anything.

Other publications available on related topics are described in Disaster Preparedness: Publications.

To obtain copies of the publication, contact SAMHSA's National Mental Health Information Center at P.O. Box 42490, Washington, DC 20015. Telephone: 1 (800) 789-2647 or 1 (866) 889-2647 (TTY). Or, visit End of Article

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Inside This Issue

Disaster Preparedness: Mental Health & Substance Abuse
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    SAMHSA News

    SAMHSA News - Volume XI, Number 3, Summer 2003